Would N.Korean Olympic Participation Violate Sanctions?

      January 05, 2018 13:06

      If North Korea really takes part in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, would that technically violate UN Security Council resolutions sanctioning the regime over its nuclear and missile programs?   

      The government believes paying for a North Korean Olympic delegation's trip would be permissible. Gangwon Province Governor Choi Moon-soon met with North Korea's sports chief Mun Ung in China and offered to ferry them to South Korea aboard a cruise ship. The International Olympic Committee has also said it is willing to shoulder their expenses.

      When South Korea balked at footing the bill for North Korean athletes during the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, the North threatened a boycott, and the Unification Ministry ended up providing W550 million from an inter-Korean support fund.

      But the UN sanctions explicitly ban support for "non-humanitarian purposes." It is unclear to what extent the term "humanitarian" can be stretched, and Cheong Wa Dae and the Unification Ministry are being cautious about the plans. 

      Choe Ryong-hae, a vice chairman of the North Korean Workers Party, talks with sports officials at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August 2016. /Yonhap

      Another problem could be that several top North Korean officials are on a UNSC blacklist. They include Hwang Pyong-so, Choe Ryong-hae and Kim Yang-gon, who made a surprise appearance at the Asian Games.

      But North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister Yo-jong, who has rapidly risen through the ranks, is not yet on the blacklist and could lead the delegation.

      The rest of the top echelons, with the exception of Kim himself, can effectively no longer travel. They are not exactly under a travel ban, but nobody is allowed to do business with them. If any of them do propose to turn up, it would certainly go against the spirit of the sanctions to roll out the red carpet.

      Then there is the question how they are going to get here. In 2014, the three high-level officials flew on North Korea's Air Koryo. But now that has also been blacklisted by South Korea and the U.S.

      Some government officials claim that they could still let the airline fly to Korea because the blacklist only calls for freezing assets and bans financial dealings, but that would send the wrong signal to the international community. Some countries like Kuwait, Pakistan and Thailand have already banned Air Koryo. 

      Using cruise ships could also violate sanctions since South Korea, the U.S. and Japan ban vessels that have stopped in North Korea from docking in their ports.

      That only leaves the options of coming overland or somehow via China.  

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